“This state treats tribals like mice and expects them to automatically flee once water is released,” says former Gujarat finance minister and founder- chairman of Sardar Sarovar Nigam Limited, Sanat Mehta. He is convinced the Statue of Unity would never have come up even up to the planning stage if Narendra Modi wasn’t PM. Mehta spoke to Pavithra S. Rangan on the project:
Is environmental clearance required for the Statue of Unity? Gujarat government officials claim there is no such need...
The Statue of Unity is a flawed idea. It isn’t just a statue, but a secretariat in itself. No authority would grant clearance for a structure of this magnitude to be drilled in the middle of a river, in such close proximity to a huge dam. The only reason the statue is coming up is to satisfy Modi’s fancy ideas on promoting tourism. Environmental/impact assessment clearances were indeed needed.
Is the Garudeshwar weir linked in any way to the Statue of Unity project?
The Garudeshwar weir was visualised to augment the use of water that would flow down from the dam after generation of power. The idea was, this water could be pumped back on construction of the weir. But if the statue comes up, the purpose of the weir will never be realised to its full extent.
Activists say the weir is an illegal construction while officials claim it’s an integral part of the Sardar Sarovar dam since the 1980s....
I am absolutely certain no effort was made to get permission for the weir construction when the Sardar Sarovar dam plan was being processed. The weir was conceived as a separate venture which could come up later. Also, I have the list of everyone who was rehabilitated as part of the Sardar Sarovar project (SSP). The 15,000 people who are now being displaced by the weir were not included in any of the bulky reports we prepared on rehabilitation of the dam affected. The weir was not even part of the social and environmental impact assessment studies.
Can people in the 11 villages, which will be submerged for certain periods every year due to the weir, legally seek rehabilitation?
Those affected by the SSP were provided a rehabilitation package of their choice, which was then considered among the best in the world. However, those who will be affected by the weir are not even deemed to be ‘project affected people’, eligible for rehabilitation. How then can they even claim in court that the weir is part of the SSP? I have visited a number of dams across the world and nowhere do they displace people in a manner that violates all their rights. The worst part is, these people will never be able to successfully fight such a powerful state. Litigation will go on for years.
Could funds be an issue?
The SSP project cost is over Rs 45,000 crore, while the rehabilitation of those affected to their satisfaction cannot cost more than Rs 1,000 crore. Can’t the state spend even two per cent of the project cost on those affected by the project? It is a matter of bad policy and lack of political will.